My parish offers a question box for parishioners, especially students, to submit religious queries of grave or peripheral importance. Staff members are asked to “sign up” next to these questions as they are posted on our bulletin board in the main office. I don’t remember signing up for the one in the title above. (Maybe somebody thought it was appropriate–how would they surmise that?!) But it was my turn to deliver an answer for this coming weekend’s shortened bulletin.
We don’t always. We resist, deny, and complain. Most Christians prefer to hang on to the tried-and-true. When we look to the Bible, nearly every prophet encountered great difficulty: Elijah was run out of town by Queen Jezebel, Jeremiah was thrown into a well, and King Ahaz told Isaiah he didn’t even want to ask for a sign from God.
The religious notion of a prophet is one who is attuned to God’s will, and who sees that the Church—or some aspect of it—is out of synch with an important understanding of the faith. Prophets are often persecuted, but not all the persecuted people in the world are authentic prophets. How do we tell the difference? I suggest prayer, discernment, and openness to God. We can’t expect to change the whole Church, but we can do our part to nurture our willingness to hear God’s voice and take needful steps to change.
How might this work? In our personal lives, we can cultivate a sense of conversion—the Greek term is metanoia, a turning around. When things are going wrong in our lives, are we prepared to take the necessary steps to correct them? Do we listen to friends and loved ones, people we otherwise trust, when they tell us we drink too much, we don’t spend enough time with our families, or that our attitude has grown negative? Do we receive bad news like this with resistance, or with a spirit of openness? Unjust authority, like Isaiah’s King Ahaz, have a lot invested in policies and initiatives, and are deeply inclined to resist and denigrate the prophet. Do we act likewise? If so, we may well align against the prophet and the God in which we believe.
If we fancy ourselves on the fringes of the Church, or of society, or however we define our circle of influence, we can ask the following question: When the prophet approaches us and challenges us to change, are we prepared to accept this guidance? If so, then perhaps we have just cause to stand with the prophet and cheer for change. But there is a caution: the prophets willingly shouldered sacrifices and burdens to do God’s work. If we identify with the prophetic tradition, are we willing to do likewise? And lastly, if we find we never side with the prophets among us, how can we be sure we always walk with God?
Anything I missed, given my word count limit of 425? How would you have answered it?